Damaging Our Diversity Efforts: One of the Unintended Consequences of the Current Employment Debate
By John Nussbaumer
Associate Dean, Auburn Hills Campus
John Nussbaumer has worked to help diversify the profession since 2005, when then National Bar Association President Reginald M. Turner recruited him to join the NBA Law Professors Division. Since then, he has spoken frequently on this topic, including presentations at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 2007 Annual Legislative Conference, the American Association of Law Schools 2009 Annual Meeting, and the American Bar Association’s 2010 Annual Meeting. He has also written extensively on diversity issues, most recently a 2011 article co-authored with Professor E. Christopher Johnson titled The Door to Law School, published in the University of Massachusetts Roundtable Law Journal. He is the recipient of the National Bar Association’s 2007 Presidential Award and the ABA Council of Legal Education Opportunity’s 2008 Legacy Justice Academic Achievement Award, and he just finished a three-year term on the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline.
The current, mostly one-sided debate about law school graduate employment prospects poses one of the greatest threats in recent memory to our efforts to diversify the profession, particularly at a time when our increasingly diverse society needs more, not fewer, lawyers of color.
We already face serious challenges in this area, with nearly two-thirds of all African-American applicants and nearly one-half of all Hispanic applicants to ABA-approved schools having been totally shut out from every school they applied to during the first decade of this century. If the best and the brightest of the future potential applicants of color who would be admitted now forgo applying to law school altogether because they perceive that law is not a promising career, the combination of these two factors will stop our diversity efforts in their tracks and reverse the direction of the profession.
The reason why this is so important is that by 2042 or sooner, demographers predict that a majority of America’s citizens will be citizens of color. If the legal profession remains almost 90% Caucasian, as it is today, we face the very real prospect of a crisis of confidence in the fairness of our justice system and our democracy, an inability to effectively compete in a global business environment that is also becoming increasingly diverse, and the risk that we will become the “apartheid” profession.
Responsible legal educators must, of course, also consider whether there will be employment opportunities for law school graduates of color in the coming years. For reasons explained elsewhere (see for example Cooley President Don LeDuc’s recent posting called The Graying of Michigan’s Lawyers and Cooley Law School’s national employment data compilation), the general employment prospects for all graduates are not as bleak as portrayed by those who have dominated the current debate. And there are several reasons why employment prospects for graduates of color may be better than the general pool of graduates.
One is that as corporations and other businesses continue to become more global enterprises, they will demand that the lawyers who work for them and the law firms that service them look more like the increasingly diverse consumers who purchase their products. This provides reason to believe that top graduates of color will find that they are increasingly in demand.
Another reason is that as our population becomes increasingly diverse, and the political power of our citizens of color grows, they will elect more and more judges who reflect the diversity of our society, and they will increasingly make up a larger proportion of the juries that decide who wins and who loses legal cases. Law firms and government agencies that depend on these judges and juries will increasingly realize that it is in their interest and the interest of their clients to have lawyers of color working on these cases.
A third reason is that good lawyers of color will find increasing populations of clients who need basic legal services and who would prefer to be represented by someone from their own community. And this is true whether that community is African American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Asian, etc. This provides reason to believe that even average graduates of color will be able to find work to support themselves and pay off their student loan obligations.
All of this is why it is so important to bring some balance to the current debate over law school graduate employment prospects, so that we do not unintentionally damage our efforts to diversify the profession. There are too few, not too many, lawyers of color, and we need to recognize that point.